by Wayne L. Derber, Pastor
July 14, 2019 - Pentecost 5 - C
Sermon text: “‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” – Luke 10:36-37
“Who is my neighbor?”
This was the question once asked of Jesus.
“Who is my neighbor?”
The conversation actually began with a lawyer asking Jesus:
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The lawyer went on to answer his own question:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your strength;
and with all your mind;
and… your neighbor as yourself.”
It is no surprise that loving God is the most important commandment.
The real surprise is that loving our neighbor
is equally as important as loving God.
So the most important commandment is love…
love God… and… love your neighbor.
The lawyer in today’s gospel reading went on to ask Jesus
about who were his neighbors that he needed to love?
Perhaps he thought that if his neighbors
only included the few people who lived close by to him,
then this commandment wouldn’t be so hard to obey.
So he asked Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?”
I am reminded of the old television program
“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
At the beginning of each show, Mister Rogers would sing a song
that began with the line
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood”
and then the song would end with the line:
“Won’t you be my neighbor?”
A few weeks ago I had a Facebook friend
post the humorous observation:
“Mister Rogers did not adequately prepare me
for the people in my neighborhood.”
Underneath this statement, a different friend
had made the equally good point:
“Nor them for me.”
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus tells us.
So like the lawyer in today’s gospel reading,
we also want to know: “And who is my neighbor?”
To answer this question Jesus told a story
which is often called “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.”
In the minds of Jesus’ listeners that day
there was no such thing as a good Samaritan.
There were only bad Samaritans, not good ones!
Most Jews hated Samaritans!
Centuries before, the country of Israel had been united
under the kings Saul, David, and Solomon.
Then there was a rebellion
and the country of Israel split into two parts.
Perhaps it would be helpful to remember what happened
in our own nation during the Civil War in the 1860’s.
Our country was almost divided into two parts – the north and the south.
Well, that didn’t almost happen with Israel – it did happen.
Israel split into two countries.
The northern part then was often known as Samaria
and the southern part was known as Judah.
The people who lived in Samaria were known as Samaritans.
The people who lived in Judah were known as Jews.
Because of the long strife between these two groups,
most Jews and Samaritans fiercely hated each other!
Jesus once requested a drink from a Samaritan woman at a well.
This Samaritan woman responded to Jesus’ request by saying:
“How is it that you, a Jew,
ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
Then the gospel writer John explained:
“Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” – John 4
So to better understand the “Parable of the Good Samaritan”
we need to realize that most Jews hated Samaritans.
Who are our “Samaritans” today?
Who are the people that we consider to be much different from ourselves
and that we tend to look down upon?
Liberals?... conservatives?... Moslems?... Jews?... immigrants?
foreigners?... minorities?... the rich?... the poor?
convicts?... atheists?... gang members?... addicts?
Let a member of whatever group you despise be the “Samaritan”
as you listen once again to this parable of Jesus.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,
and fell into the hands of robbers,
who stripped him, beat him, and went away,
leaving him half dead.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road;
and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him,
passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan
(or imagine here a person of a group that you can’t stand)
while traveling came near him;
and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
He went to him and bandaged his wounds,
having poured oil and wine on them.
Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn,
and took care of him.
The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper,
and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back,
I will repay you whatever more you spend.’”
Then after telling this story, Jesus asked the lawyer:
“Which of these three, do you think,
was a neighbor to the man
who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
The answer was obvious – the Samaritan!
However, the Jewish lawyer couldn’t bring himself
to admit that it was a despised Samaritan who did the right thing.
So instead of saying “the Samaritan,”
the lawyer answered: “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus told the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus told this parable to help explain
what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves.
In this parable, Jesus answers two important questions
about this commandment.
The first question he answers is: “Who is our neighbor?”
It is not just a person who lives close to us in our neighborhood.
In this parable, Jesus tells us that we are to consider our neighbor to be
every person that we encounter each day –
especially those who are hurting and are in need of help.
Who is our neighbor?
The second question Jesus answers is:
“How are we to love our neighbors?”
We usually think that the word “love”
means having positive emotional feelings for others.
But this was not the kind of love shown
by the Samaritan for the wounded man.
The Samaritan didn’t love him emotionally.
He loved him by helping him.
The Samaritan saw the wounded man…
was moved with pity…
went to him…
bandaged his wounds…
put him on his animal…
brought him to an inn…
took care of him…
and paid for his continued care.
So this is the answer to the second question:
“How are we to love our neighbor as ourselves?”
Jesus teaches us in this parable that we are to love our neighbors
not necessarily with emotional feelings of love,
but with actions of love.
We may have people in our lives
that we find difficult to emotionally love,
but we can and should do loving actions to one and to all.
Jerry Apps is a retired professor of agriculture
from the University of Wisconsin.
He is a wonderful story teller and has written over 40 books.
You may have seen some of his videos on P.B.S.
He often talks and writes about what it was like growing up on a farm
during the depression years of the 1930’s and 40’s.
In one of his videos, he tells about an incident from his childhood
when a rough family moved onto a neighboring farm.
This is how Jerry Apps tells the story:
“This family had a (bad) reputation.
When they first moved in, the farm had been vacant for a while.
And then we heard it had been purchased.
We all gathered at this house
and we all brought something to eat
and we all sat around the table.
And we discovered that they had five boys.
And we also discovered, these kids could cuss.
I mean, these kids were the best cussers.
They knew cuss words we’d never heard before.
I mean, they could string together cuss words
in such an eloquent fashion
that we couldn’t help but just marvel.
My mother was sitting off to the side.
Being the good Christian woman she was,
I could see she was not taking all this in too well.
In fact, she whispered to my dad, “We’ve got to go home,
this is not a good place to be.”
By the way, when we were traveling home
my mother said:
“I don’t want you boys, meaning my brothers and me,
I don’t ever want you to associate with those boys again.
And my dad said, “Listen, Eleanor,
they’re going to associate with those boys.
We’re going to associate with them,
because they are our neighbors.”
That’s very important to remember.
As different as they were, as unusual as they were,
and maybe as sort of as raw and rough as they were,
they were still our neighbors.” (Jerry Apps in the YouTube video “A Farm Story”).
Not wanting difficult people to be our neighbors
is our normal human reaction.
But ignoring our neighbor in need,
no matter how much we might dislike them,
is the very thing that we should not do.
This is what the priest and the Levite
did in the parable of Jesus.
They saw the wounded man
and passed by on the other side.
It is interesting to note that Jesus
used two supposedly religious people
as the ones who failed to help the wounded man.
If Jesus were telling this parable to us today
he might have said that a pastor and a council member
were the ones who passed by the wounded man.
The ones who seemed most likely to help the wounded man
were precisely the ones who did not.
This parable clearly illustrates the sin of omission.
When we think about our sins,
we usually think about the wrongs that we have committed…
sins like lying, cheating, or hurting someone.
These are sins of commission – sins that we have committed.
But perhaps even worse than our sins of commission
are our sins of omission…
that is, the deeds of compassion that we have omitted doing.
The priest and the Levite in the parable
clearly were guilty of the sin of omission –
they failed to help the wounded man in need.
M*A*S*H is one of my favorite television shows.
For those of you unfamiliar with this show,
M*A*S*H is about the doctors and nurses
in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital
during the Korean War.
One episode of M*A*S*H is quite unique.
It is called “Point of View”
and this episode was filmed entirely
from the point of view of a soldier
who was wounded during a battle.
The soldier’s name is Private Rich.
This episode begins with a patrol of soldiers on the move…
then there are exploding bombs…
then Rich falls down wounded…
a medic comes and treats him…
Rich is placed onto a stretcher…
loaded into a helicopter…
taken to M*A*S*H 4077
and treated by the doctors and nurses there.
We never see the face of Rich
because the whole show was filmed
as if through the eyes of Private Rich.
You see everything as if you had been the wounded soldier himself.
(M*A*S*H Season 7, Episode 10: “Point of View”)
I know that it is impossible to do this completely,
but it is very helpful if we could try to put ourselves
in the place of the wounded people around us
and see things through their eyes.
This is what “empathy” is.
If we could imagine some of the pain and difficulty
that a wounded person is experiencing,
it would help motivate us to respond to that wounded person.
Just over a week ago there was a motorcycle accident near Waterman.
A man from Sandwich lost control of his motorcycle
when some animals crossed the road.
This accident happened about 10:00 Friday night.
This badly injured man laid in the ditch all night long.
Finally around 7:00 the next morning
a person who was out walking
noticed this injured man,
and the injured man was then transported to a hospital.
This walker was like a Good Samaritan to this wounded man.
Well, most of the wounded people that we encounter in life
are not lying along a road somewhere,
but they are in our families, and in our congregation,
and in our work places and in our neighborhoods.
There are many things that can happen in life
that wound a person physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
So there are wounded people all around us
who have been beaten up in one way or another.
Many of them might not even seem to us to be wounded.
But if we would take the time to stop and see and listen…
we would discover that they are very wounded indeed.
Who might be the wounded people that you will encounter this week?
Perhaps it will be a friend wounded by health problems…
or a neighbor wounded by low self-esteem…
or a person wounded by the recent death of a loved one…
or a coworker wounded by family problems…
or an acquaintance wounded by financial difficulties…
or a clerk in a store wounded by some kind of addiction.
Most of the wounded people that we will encounter this week
we will be unaware of their wounds at all,
because, unfortunately, like the priest and the Levite,
we will so quickly pass them by on the other side.
Only if we take the time to stop and ask and care,
can we, like the Good Samaritan,
be a good neighbor to the person who is wounded.
Who is… my neighbor?
Anyone who is wounded is my neighbor.
And when we help a wounded person,
then we are a true neighbor to them.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan
Jesus teaches us that should help
the wounded people that we encounter in our daily lives
after all, each one is… my neighbor.